Military-led Warner crime plan on trial
Elements of the much-ballyhooed National Security Minister Jack Warner "crime plan" are becoming known only piecemeal. Roll-out of the Warner plan has so far taken shape in the start of a job share-out in east Port of Spain.
After an exercise of matching skills to job descriptions at St Paul Street and Mango Rose, some 500 were registered to participate in "People and Projects for Progress". Thus grandly titled, the new scheme is represented as an advance on the old Unemployment Relief Programme. The work, due to start tomorrow, of cleaning and beautifying parts of Charlotte, Duke, Prince and Nelson Streets, will engage people living in the respective areas. Officials say they cannot yet risk assigning workers to operate in areas where they do not live.
Still, now being hired are people whose hands, without this targeted state intervention, might simply have remained idle. One effect made itself felt in the flaming protests two weeks ago in George, Nelson and Duncan Streets, ostensibly against joblessness. "People and Projects for Progress" also responds to criticisms by area Opposition PNM Members of Parliament of neglect of their constituencies. In all this, what is clear is the free hand that Mr Warner enjoys to give effect to his ideas for crime reduction. Among "close to 100 initiatives", approved by the National Security Council, for the Warner "crime plan", this job scheme conspicuously involves the Defence Force in the role of "project manager". This is a departure from the past practice of empowering (and enriching) favoured neighbourhood figures, notoriously called "community leaders".
Soldier-managers are expected to take a tough, impartial, no-nonsense approach, marked by a military sense of mission ultimately backed up by military muscle. Should it work in the capital city, the success of this job scheme would invite replication in other areas equally prone to violent criminality. Troops are already deployed to assist in crime containment in Laventille. Their running of the Warner job scheme represents a further militarisation of the response to crime. Even if this presumably pilot project works, the country must wonder if the Defence Force disposes enough human and other resources troops to marshal in crime sectors where they will be expected, even if not needed. Opposition Leader Keith Rowley, citing a Jamaican precedent, warns of the danger of politicisation of the jobs programme, because of its association with the People's Partnership administration.
Such early warning, coming from a skeptical Opposition Leader, merits national attention and an appropriate response from those with hands-on involvement in "People and Projects for Progress". Dr Rowley and the party he leads, however, are identified with programmes that failed to assure security, reduce crime, promote environmental betterment, and create "sustainable" jobs in east Port of Spain. If today, he has a better idea than before, he should let the country know.